This April marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. This post is the second of four which highlight ties between Topeka and Shawnee County and national movements during and after the Civil War.
By the 1870’s over 20,000 Union Civil War veterans resided in Kansas. Locally, many veterans joined their regional Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) posts and together they lobbied for veterans pensions, marched in parades and participated in regional politics.
Topeka was home to five local G.A.R. posts, each with their own specific history and membership. Samuel Reader, a Topeka farmer, was a member of G.A.R. Blue Post No. 250. Born in Pennsylvania in 1836, Reader first moved to Kansas Territory in 1855 at the age of 19 years. His involvement in the Civil War and post-war Kansas typifies how veterans actively shaped and contributed to their communities.
When Reader moved to Kansas Territory he settled a farmstead claim in Indianola (now part of north Topeka). He participated in several skirmishes against pro-slavery forces and even crossed paths with the infamous abolitionist John Brown. By the time Kansas became a state in 1861 he was firm in his Free State beliefs. In 1863 he was mustered into Company D of the 2nd Kansas State Militia. Shortly thereafter he was one of several Union soldiers captured after the Battle of the Big Blue near Westport, Missouri. Reader and other Union prisoners were forced to march south, with the intention of heading towards a Texas prison camp. After several days Reader managed to escape by posing as a Confederate soldier; he walked four days back to his home in Indianola.
After the Civil War Reader married and split his time between his farmstead in Indianola and his aunt’s house on north Kansas Avenue. Like many veterans, Reader become very involved in local events, including bridge construction and school district development. On local ballots he voted in favor of both black and women’s suffrage. He was active in G.A.R. Blue Post No. 250 and was elected commander of the post in 1901.
Reader kept detailed diaries (including sketches and paintings) from age 13 until just shortly before his death. These diaries are an important source of information on Topeka and Shawnee County history of the late 19th – early 20th centuries. You can access a large portion of his diaries, illustrations and other writings online at Kansas Memory.
Additionally, in 1954 excerpts from his diaries were printed in the Topeka Daily Capitol; these issues are available on microfilm in the Topeka Room of TSCPL. The Topeka Room also has available copies of Reader’s accounts of the Battle of Indianola and the Battle of the Big Blue.
Samuel Reader died September 15th, 1914 – just four months after Memorial Hall in downtown Topeka was dedicated to Union veterans. He is buried in Rochester Cemetery in north Topeka.